Diminishing returns

Shocking new information has come to light over the figures quoted in the Walsall Council internal ‘Working Smarter’ film I shared a couple of weeks ago. This video is about an ongoing project to ‘streamline’ working methods at the authority. The video had been found by Walsall Co-operative Labour Councillor for Willenhall north, Gareth Illmann-Walker, who was rightly keen for Walsall residents to see where their Council Tax was going in times of harsh cuts.

The ‘Working Smarter’ initiative is the hobby-horse and pet project of Councillor and Deputy Leader Adrian Andrew, and is costing in the region of eight million pounds.

Further information has since come to light that suggests this costly campaign – slated to save £17.5 million – is not quite the bargain the film would have us believe.

Untitled 3

Second in command, Councillor Adrian Andrew, seems a little warm as he explains how great his initiative is. This freeze-frame is at 3:18 in the video, the caption theirs, not mine.

I have recently been anonymously passed an email detailing the projected savings from ‘Working Smarter’, which states the following facts:

  • Savings will start in year 2015/2016 at £463,000 per annum
  • Savings are not expected to reach the stated amount of £963,00 per annum until 2021/22
  • Savings over 25 years projected to be £17.5million

In short, eight million quid is being blown now, and we won’t see a penny of it back until 2015, and the project won’t pay for itself within a full decade.

One wonders just how much that sum will devalue over the period.


The truth will out…

This business case is outrageous. As a comparison, I know of a large multinational company that is not prepared to invest in projects that will not show a return with three years. This is in no way uncommon. Councillor Andrew is expecting us all to be overjoyed at the frittering away of £8 million that won’t even recover itself within a decade – at a time when the council is facing  £13 million of cuts in this year alone.

No wonder Adrian looks a bit sweaty. I’d have trouble punting a pitch like that. I just wouldn’t have the brass balls, frankly.

I’m sure this will be of huge comfort to those of the Social Care waiting list, those driving down potholed roads and to all of the 160-odd staff currently being made redundant.

In all this, it should not be forgotten that Councillor Andrew has just voted himself a huge allowances rise, clearly in recognition of his own perceived ability.

I think the member should remember that he’s not the judge, we are, and that we’ve seen the result of these ‘money saving’ schemes before. Let’s just say Walsall doesn’t have a great record.

If the opposition are on the ball, this should make upcoming corporate scrutiny quite interesting…

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8 Responses to Diminishing returns

  1. Peter says:

    Evening all…….

    Having watched the film there are 2 issues here, 1) Workplace environment and 2) cost of the workplace environment.
    As somone who has worked in both large and small offices I agree that the better the environment the better the results (in theory). Senior managers seem to be holding out the hope that everyone will be tidy and thoughful and clean up for the sake of everyone else, this discipline takes enormous effort once the smell of paint has gone, believe me.
    Too many of the “staff” seemed to have real concerns about desk sharing in particular, and the lady interviewed at 8.37 in the video was so concerned that she couldnt remember what she thought and had to read from a script seemingly on her (not ony her’s) desk.
    There also seems to be a “Flip Chart Language” being employed by most people interviewed, Jim at 3.31 came out with a beauty! I recognise most of the words but the order in which they were given was almost uncomprehensible.
    Oh by the way, we are now all customers of the council……. not residents, people, friends, rate payers etc but customers. The corporate mentality, bearing in mind this is the local council, has reached the brain as well as the mouth.

    Cost. Would be interesting to know if the total saving of £17.5 million over the next generation and a half accounts for the £8m it is costing? IE the actual saving is only £9.5M. And where is the £8M coming from? Is it being borrowed? If so what is the interest rate?
    Returns on investment are a very sensitive area, and it doesn’t need to be a large multinational, generally an employer is looking for a return of 4 times the cost of an employee (including cost of employment, training, tax, NI etc etc) within 12 months of starting and then ongoing during the course of employment. Capital investment returns are a little more complex and may differ but I would suggest 3 years is about right in terms of time.
    The whole thing smells of “something to do” and then how to justify it, the managers have a big job on their hands convincing the “staff” of its merits and their “customers” may need even more.
    Oh hang on I forgot……… this is the council.
    Mind how you go.


  2. stymaster says:

    I could wear the building modifications being depreciated to zero over a longish period- (say 10-15 years), but as one of the great changes seems to be thin client computer terminals (and presumably the fairly hefty server farm to point them at), I wonder how much of the cash goes towards that, with a life of around 5 years? In 25 years the furniture will be worn out long ago, and the IT gear will be but a memory of old techies, uttered along with “yeah, I remember those, just”.

    I’d love to see the calculations of how they arrived at the 17.5 million, for a start. There’s a whiff of bullshit in the air. I’m frankly amazed that anyone buys the idea that a few buzzwords, some currently fashionable office furniture, and a terminal server farm are going to save that much money.

    Seems to me they’re trying to fix organisational managment failure by changing the furniture, IT, and bogs *[shrug]*. Some of the expense is clearly justified in that the Civic Centre is old, and needs refurb to be fit for purpose, but to try to claim savings seems very broken indeed.

    • Interested says:

      Agree, you are absolutely correct. There are so many systems that can’t be intergrated and no obvious plan to get them put right. Already (whifts of GigaPort) the existing systems are out of date and completely incompatable with the new system. As you know lots of liscenses are none-transferable and expensive to renew, no thought seems to have gone into this process…

  3. Interested says:

    Blimey… the only thing I can say about this is that I am so surprised it has taken so long to be picked up upon…
    I can’t believe the really poor management of this so called ‘money saving’ scheme has managed to fool anyone… Just how many buildings have been closed (and how many new ones constructed/ rented…?)
    I personally feel sick each time the new budget is talked about, the only people who have been affected are those who actually do give a shit about Walsall and the people within…
    The more I see and learn, the more I think it is a sick joke! Soon the whole borough will be run by a whole load of chiefs but no indians.
    Oh well won’t be long…. Welcome to the Black Country Council, sponsored by MITIE, G4S and Interserve… just wait and see…

  4. Ray says:

    I’m just wondering what the Dragons Den members would have decided had Cllr Andrew’s proposal for a Smarter Workplaces Program been put to them as a business venture.The mind boggles!!

    • Peter says:

      Ray, The dragons den members wouldn’t touch this one with your money let alone their own money!!!

  5. Barry Carpenter says:

    Walsall Taxis Licensing Department has been an interesting part of the council to watch in terms of cash saving over the last seven years. They had their own location with car parking in Profit Street, this enabled the officers to directly inspect Taxis and private hire motors by just stepping outside. All self contained with counter staff always on hand, you got to know the staff, first name terms became the norm and was very good for staff and drivers alike.
    The council moved the staff to the Challenge Building, over the road from the main council building, parking was just two spaces a walk up the road! The license officers became disconnected for those that needed to see them. tucked away in offices somewhere in the building, with no counter staff directly involved in dealing with drivers quickly. Not ideal but just about workable. But the drivers had to walk across the road to the payment hall, to pay any fees.
    Last year they finally moved into the main council admin block, totally isolated from any nearby parking, so no direct inspections are possible. So if you need to contact an officer, first explain the reason to someone on the front desk who does not have a clue about Taxis Licensing, your given a number on a ticket and told to take a seat in a given area. An officer then is contacted via phone and has to travel God knows how far to an interview room to call you in to deal with you, 5 to 10 minutes at least. The last few times I’ve been, its was made clear that the Licensing Officers where very unhappy with the current system which is overly complicated and cash/time wasting.
    You badge is an annual renewal, a letter is sent out to call you in, with an appointment, however the front desk computer and the Licensing computer don’t seem to be linked and you may not be issued a number and you are not booked in. The Licensing staff are sat in the interview room waiting for your name to be booked in, its only the fact that they know the drivers and can see them sitting in the waiting area! At each and every step in trying to save money, the council have made the system increasingly complicated for themselves and their “customers”. Good knows how much money has been wasted in setting this particular system up, but carry that across all of the council services and it would soon to start adding up to a very large figure. As usual those in the ivory towers don’t see how their mad cap cash saving ideas really don’t work on the ground!

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